BRIGHTON FRINGE: A review from a critic

Puppets, power and a discarded pizza box: A reviewer’s Brighton Fringe roundup

Throwing down the gauntlet during a Q&A for the ambitious multimedia theatre: Astra, was director and designer Raven Kaliana. It seemed appropriate that she stared into extremely bright spotlights, trying to shield her eyes. She had the appearance of a lone human being standing on a large stage holding a microphone, swaddled as he was in a brightly colored sanitized sheath, but her mannerisms were defiant. “We need to come together and start talking about the world we want,” she said. And what could be more appropriate for this discussion than the Brighton Fringe?

This year’s theater party had us gasping, laughing and crying. He knocked us down. He crept into our wounds looking for shrapnel. He put a hand on our shoulders and whispered in our ears, “I know.

We received a lecture from Mother Earth, purged the sins of Everyman, and saw the world as a discarded pizza box. We encountered a technology ready to speak, to improvise, to take over. We’ve taken trips to the distant future, witnessed our divided destinies, and seen a surprising number of puppets dancing their little socks off.

Even after the long period of sweltering silence on stage, we still saw fringe shows after fringe shows bravely tackle pressing issues of the present, past and future; expressing the personal, political and rarely unnecessary. Many of these shows were done in isolation, but they still managed to speak to each other on this poster beast that is the Brighton Fringe.

Adaptations of classics have found something new to offer for our time and proudly pose alongside new works. Veins carrying vital themes ran between them, sharing their vital blood.

Without a doubt, two of the standout shows at this year’s festival embody this process beautifully. Lachlan Werner’s seductive Voices of Evil and JDHenshaw’s powerful Jekyl and Hyde: a One Woman Show undoubtedly seem like a juxtaposition at first. Two performances very differently managed, both exceptional. By appearing within a stone’s throw of each other on the timeline, they become much more than a sum of their individual parts. Werner may seem like an unlikely modern-day Robert Louis Stevenson, but his show shines a perfect light on his demons and sees him evolutionarily embracing all that he can be. It reminds me of a quote from Cheryl Strayed: “You can’t fake the kernel. The truth that lives there will eventually prevail. He is a God we must obey, a force that inevitably brings us all to our knees. He asks eternally: will you do it later or will you do it now?

These ideas echoed throughout this reviewer’s fringe experience as many other shows explored the futility of burying the hard to confront. Theater makers and daring performers have reclaimed ground this year focusing on once suppressed histories of the objectified, the hidden and the oppressed. Sandy, SOE and The Burning of a Sicilian Whore are other shows to tackle the unruly truth of toxic masculinity. All deep and thought-provoking plays that explore the treatment of women and the feminine. Addressing vital topics for our time, alongside those of power, abuse, co-dependency, self-denial and control.

Many theatrical performances aspired to make the personal political and to express what seems barely expressible. Some have succeeded magnificently. Undeniably, the strongest recurring theme of all was that of the climate crisis. Shows such as Motherload!, 0.0031% (Plastic and Chicken Bones) and Everyman kick in the gut by asking the tough questions about reproductive rights, the right to rule and the right to free will, even when their exercise is s turns out to be destructive. So what shows

Multimedia Theatre: Astra, The Time Machine and Doggerland take a smoother, more hypnotic approach to storytelling through puppets, cards and a marker. The main themes emerging from the Fringe theater experience were: How do we tolerate each other? How do we treat each other? How to reintroduce, recover and embrace “the other”? How to repair the damage? How do we do it differently? How can we come together and do what needs to be done to fix our broken home? Our fractured burning world.

The seriousness of these important theatrical works rubbed shoulders with lighter performances, reminding us how crucial laughter is to get us through the difficult times we live in. Fabulous improvised performances marvel at the ingenuity and resourcefulness of humans. After Dusk – The Improvised Twilight Zone, Happily Never After, Murder on the Improvised Express, Extra Topping’s Comedy Showcase and Hotel Michelle: even these cheerful shows aren’t immune to larger themes. They included greedy killer diamonds, the fatal consequences of financial betrayal, dystopian futures, and the cost of idleness. They have a thick, quick laugh, while demonstrating how creative, collaborative and spontaneous people can be.
be at their best.

Whether the shows were designed to thrill us, make us squirm or tickle our funny bone, those at Brighton Fringe 2022 have undoubtedly brought out performers who care a lot. The future has been a concern of this festival. In the 23 shows this reviewer has seen, the question that comes up time and time again is: what will our future be? Not only what will it look like, but how will we make it?

Because, as the cycles of abuse depicted in the striking piece Sandy show, this mess may not be our individual fault, but it is our responsibility. Can we break the pattern of neglect, empowerment and destruction?

This Brighton Fringe has shown us that we are willing, we are capable, we can do difficult things. He asked us how far would we go to write a different story? And when? Because time will not wait. Will we do it later or will we do it now?

The final words of this reviewer’s Fringe experience are spoken by the 19th century time travel inventor played by Mark Finbow in his riveting adaptation of The Time Machine; he says “I hope your future is good.” This reviewer hopes hell, higher waters and the pizza box will make it so.

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